Library Worker Beaten and Arrested for Peacefully Defending Free Speech of Patron
Article first appeared at The Free Thought Project.
Kansas City, KS — Since 9/11, the American police state has been constantly trying to outdo itself in the oppression of civil rights. From the Patriot Act to National Security Letters to warrantless wiretapping to militarized protest crackdowns, the State has been unable to hide its authoritarian desires.
The oppression of rights and free speech was put on full display recently at the Kansas City Public Library, where a senior library staff member was brutally taken down and arrested by police and private security officers — for peacefully intervening in the harassment of a library patron.
The armed guards were present as security detail for Dennis Ross, champion of the Israeli lobby and former Bush official who pushed for the Iraq invasion. Ross was giving a talk called “Truman and Israel.”
Steve Woolfolk, director of public relations at the library, became the victim of abuse when he tried to remind the security detail of library policy after an audience member was forcibly removed from the microphone during the Q&A session.
The library hosts several speaking events every month, and Woolfolk knew this would be one of the more controversial events where the library makes a rare exception allowing armed security guards. The library has conditions when security details are brought in for speakers.
According to the Bill of Rights Defense Committee (BRDC):
“First, nobody could be forcibly removed for asking an unpopular question. Second, nobody could be removed at all without consulting with the library staff, who would only allow an individual to be removed if staff concluded they were an imminent threat.”
Woolfolk had positioned himself near the stage where people ask questions, prepared to ask those who went on too long to give up the microphone for the next person. Jeremy Rothe-Kushel was first up.
According to an official statement from the Kansas City Public Library issued on September 30:
“The activist, Jeremy Rothe-Kushel, was first to the microphone when Ross’ presentation turned to Q&A, and his question inferred that the U.S. and Israel have engaged in state-sponsored terrorism. Ross responded and, when Rothe-Kushel attempted to follow up, he was grabbed by one of the private security guards and then by others in the private security detail. Steven Woolfolk, the Library’s director of programming and marketing, attempted to intervene, noting that public discourse is accepted and encouraged at a public event held in a public library.”
Woolfolk thought he had successfully defused the situation, noting that Rothe-Kushel said he would leave voluntarily, which he attempted to do.
But these off-duty police officers, along with private security guards from the Jewish Community Foundation (JCF), couldn’t stop themselves from initiating violence once they had caught the scent.
The BRDC describes how Woolfolk, seeking to keep the peace and the commitment to free and lively discourse, became the victim of brutality by agents of the State and the Israeli lobby.
“Woolfolk wanted to make clear that this was a public event at a public library and thus Rothe-Kushel was not trespassing. He went to find his supervisor, but before he could do so Woolfolk says an off-duty and out of uniform police officer grabbed him from behind and threw him against a pillar. Per Woolfolk, the officer never announced who he was or told Woolfolk he was under arrest, but just kept telling him to “stop resisting.” As Woolfolk told the Dissent NewsWire, he informed the officer, “I’d be happy to do whatever he wanted, and that all I was resisting was the urge to fall face first onto the floor.” According to Woolfolk, a second police officer, this one in uniform, delivered several blows to Woolfolk’s knee, causing him to be diagnosed with grade 1 torn MCL. Eventually he was thrown over a chair and handcuffed. When he asked what he was being arrested for, the officer told him he didn’t know.”
One can only imagine how other members of the audience felt as they watched this shameless assault by armed security on a library worker who did nothing more than peaceably calm down a volatile situation.
Woolfolk was charged with interfering with the arrest of Rothe-Kushel, who was himself charged with trespassing and resisting arrest. Library director Crosby Kemper says the arrests were unwarranted and “an egregious violation of First Amendment rights.”
“The First Amendment’s protection of the rights of free speech and assembly is cherished by all Americans but particularly by libraries and their patrons,” he says. “An overzealous off-duty police officer violated the rights of one of our patrons at Ambassador Ross’ talk in the Library and doubled down by arresting Steve Woolfolk, who was trying to explain the Library’s rules to the officer.
In defense of the freedom of speech, the Library stands fully in support of Steve.”
“For someone to be assaulted and then arrested for asking a question, in a public library of all places, is abhorrent. The library should be a place where people of all points of view can feel safe and welcome,” said Woolfolk. “Nobody, be it an individual or an agent of the state, should be able to take it upon themselves to silence a point of view simply because they disagree.”
The security detail for Dennis Ross – who held important diplomatic positions in the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations – was certainly tapped into the surveillance state and most likely knew about the activism of Rothe-Kushel. He and an associate were the only ones searched before being allowed to enter, according to Rothe-Kushel.
Ross has a notorious history in pushing the “statecraft” behind America’s military hegemony focused on the Middle East. He worked under neocon war-monger Paul Wolfowitz early in his career, and signed two letters in March 2003 by the Project for a New American Century supporting an invasion of Iraq.
Ross served in various “special” roles involving the Middle East and Southwest Asia under three presidents and is a “distinguished fellow” at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, which is funded by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Considering this background, it’s no wonder Ross didn’t stop his jackboots from pouncing on a peace activist challenging the narrative, or assaulting a member of the library staff who dared defend free speech. Stifling dissent is crucial to the message that invading countries and drone bombing women and children is necessary to secure the peace.